Race to the Cradle

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Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced how $700 million in new Race to the Top money will be employed: $200 million to get close-loser states in the last RTTT to once again jump through hoops and grovel before their federal overloards, and $500 million for a new “early-learning” obedience contest.

The first part of this is irksome in large part because many congressional GOP members — the people who are supposed to be reining in unconstitutional, out-of-control federal adventuring — voted for the continuing resolution containing this expansion of the simultaneously worthless but dictatorial Race to the Top. The potential rewards for winning states are much smaller than the first go-round — $10 million to $50 million, versus $20 million to $700 million — so the bribery might be less powerful. But it is unconstitutional, politically charged bribery nonetheless, and it most certainly did not need to happen. No one, as far as I know, was clamoring for it, except maybe for a few people in the Obama adminsitration.

More troubling, though, is the expansion — and new focus — of RTTT into pre-kindergarten education. Apparently, Race to the Top has proven so effective in elementary and secondary education – of course, it hasn’t proven anything – that it’s clearly time to drill down even closer to the cradle. And drill it will. While the regs for the program haven’t been written yet, the legislation that created the thing stipulates that to win money states must:

  • Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  • Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
  • Ensure that any use of assessments is consistent with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

If this isn’t a recipe for ultimate federal control of pre-K, I don’t know what is (other than an effort involving even more taxpayer dough). I mean, having the Feds define “high quality” through regulation? Mandates for states to create “integrated” pre-K systems? Dictating parameters for assessing success? What next? Babysitter-in-Chief Obama himself administering the milk and cookies — er, fat-free milk and broccoli – at snack time?

That this new RTTT exists — and made it through a GOP-majority House – sure isn’t a good sign for things to come, either in education or beyond.

See this Cato essay for more on the desirability of eliminating K-12 education subsidies.